When I was about then years of age, my mother decided that I needed to go to Sunday school, so she sent me along to the Presbyterian Sunday school, which was close to where we lived in Cooks Hill, Newcastle. I can remember learning a little bit of the Catechism each week but I can’t remember any of what I learned now. I attended Sunday school for quite a while but I never seemed to be a part of it and my mother allowed me to leave.
Some of my friends, who lived around the neighbourhood, had been going to a boys club called “Boys Legion”. They all appeared to enjoy themselves and I asked if I could go with them. The club was run by a wonderful man named Ernie Cause, a man who seemed to have an endless supply of patience and he kept us entertained for about two hours every Friday night with games and handicrafts.
One night a man with a Salvation Army uniform popped his head in the door and asked if everything was going alright. I remember asking one of the boys what a Salvation Army Officer was doing at Legion and being shocked when he told me that The Salvation Army ran the Legion and that the hall we were in was a Salvation Army hall.
Some time later another Officer of The Army came to Legion and asked if anyone would like to learn a brass instrument. A lot of hands went up and we were to come down to the hall on the next Monday afternoon to have our first lesson. We were as keen as mustard and used to practice every chance we got, in whichever back yard we were allowed. What a terrible noise we inflicted on the neighbourhood and we got our fair share of abuse.
After about three months the Officer asked if we would like to attend the Sunday school. No one did and nothing was said for a while. After a few more months (by this time we were hooked on our instruments) we were asked again, only this time, if we didn’t attend the Sunday school we would have to forfeit the instruments. The next Sunday there were three new boys at the Sunday school!
A few of us accepted the invitation to attend the Sunday night church meeting as well. I can remember that a lot of what was said in the meetings was far beyond my understanding; I had entered a new world with a new language.
In those days the night meeting would go on for a long time. Those running the meeting were very keen for people to make a decision to accept Christ as their own personal Saviour, or to make a re-consecration to the Lord. I used to sit next to a lad from my school who often went out to the front and made a decision. When I asked him why he went out so often, he told me that as the people running the meeting would not end the meeting until someone went out the front, if they were not having success he would go out, they would be happy and the meeting could end so that he could get home.
Some time later I was asked if I wanted to “make a decision for the Lord”. By this time I had begun to realize that I was a sinner and needed to be “right with God”. Not understanding much about sin, or what “being right with God” meant, I did understand that it meant accepting Christ as my own Saviour, I accepted the invitation and went out the front to publicly acknowledge my decision.
Many years passed, I was married to a Brisbane Salvation Army girl, two children arrived and I was a very active member of the Salvation Army and did whatever was asked of me. I attended every Bible study that was started. None of them ever lasted long, because no one ever seemed to have any answers to the various questions that would be asked and the study would cease. I knew the Army doctrine fairly well and was satisfied with that, knowing very little Scripture and not being aware that there might be other Scriptures that may conflict with the ones presented in the doctrine book, it all seemed right to me and I’m sure, with the people who wrote the book.
In my early thirties, The Army was holding an open-air meeting in the Newcastle suburb of Mayfield. At that particular meeting I was on the list as the Speaker. I cannot remember what the subject of my message was that night. What I can remember was that there was a heckler who gave me no peace and that I was wishing for a lightning bolt to strike or an earthquake to occur, anything to get rid of that man. What a hide he had, interrupting me like that.
At the finish of my talk, the band played a march to entertain the listeners. Half way through the march, the words of a popular song ran through my mind, “It’s only words, but words are all I have to take your heart away.”
I had no words for that man. Here I was supposedly preaching the gospel to the unsaved and I couldn’t even argue my position. I determined there and then that I would get the words I needed. I would get the answers.
I began to read the Bible as I had never done before but it seemed beyond me. All that happened was that the problems increased as I tried to sort it all out. As well as that I started to listen to the sermons much more carefully than I had ever done before. The Officer at the Mayfield Salvation Army Corps was s good man. He was like Nathaniel; there was no guile in him. Sometimes he would unknowingly contradict himself in the same sermon, or on the same day.
It occurred to me that perhaps the Army did not have the answers or the words that I was looking for.
After much thought and agonising I was forced to make another decision. “Was the Bible right, could it be trusted, was there a key that opened it up to an ordinary believer like me? Would a God Who loved me so much that He gave His life for me leave me with a book that could not be understood?” I decided that God would not do that and that the Bible was right, it must be my understanding of it that was wrong. There must be a key to open it up to me but who had the key and the answers?
I became acquainted with some Pentecostal people. They seemed to have something that the people in the Army did not have and told mea bout the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost but I knew that already, as it was a strong part of the Army’s teaching. They did take it a step further and claim the “gifts” for themselves, but they did not sort the Bible out for me and I searched elsewhere.
A friend of mine pointed me to British Israelitism and gave me some copies of a magazine called Plain Truth. They had some of the best refutations to evolution that I had ever read and their assertion that we were a part of the lost tribes of Israel sounded good to me but they only dwelt on the Scriptures that suited their argument and ignored the rest. The key that I was looking for was somewhere else.
About this time a family from Melbourne shifted up to Newcastle and were attending the Mayfield Army. I had shifted back to the Newcastle Army at the time and was warned about the man of the family because he was a heretic and was to be avoided at all costs, mainly because he believed that you could not lose your “Salvation”. He must be a heretic because I knew that you could lose your “Salvation”, I had seen many do it.
He owned a bookshop that was not to be entered. The problem was that they never did tell me where the shop was. One day I called down to the Jesmond Shopping Centre to get some lunch and happened to see a little bookshop and I called in. it never occurred to me that this was the bookshop that I shouldn’t visit.
There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with this fellow and we had a long talk. As I was leaving he gave me a little booklet titled Far Above All. When I got to the car I threw it up on the dashboard and forgot all bout it. Months later it occurred to me to visit the bookshop again; but what would I do if the shop owner asked me what I thought of the book. I had better read it, so I took it from the dashboard and by this time it had faded so that I couldn’t even read the title and I ploughed through it. Not much of it made sense but it did go some way to answering some of my questions.
It could have been a waste of time reading the booklet because he didn’t ask me anything about it but that meeting was a turning point in my life.
As we talked I happened to say to this fellow, “One of the things that I like about Paul’s writings was that he bases them on the words of Jesus”. “Oh”, said the shop owner, “you think that the words of Jesus are more inspired than the words of Paul, do you?” “Yes, of course I do” I said and that was the end of that. By the way, the owner of the shop was Athol Walter, the dreaded heretic!
That night, whilst soaking in a nice hot bath, the stupidity of my statement to Athol hit me like a thunderbolt. I had been brought up on the doctrine that “The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are given by the inspiration of God and they only constitute the Divine rule for Christian faith and practice.”
If that were so then all the words must be of equal inspiration, from Moses at the beginning to John at the end. Here was the next step in finding the answer, or the key that opened Scripture so that it made sense to me.
On my next visit to the shop Athol pointed out in Ephesians three that God had revealed to Paul something that He never revealed anywhere else in the Scripture. Having already decided that the Scriptures were to be trusted and that Paul’s writings were just as inspired as the Lord’s, I had no trouble accepting this new revelation.
What a difference that made to me. I visited Athol’s shop at every opportunity. We would get so excited and carried away with it all the charismatics had nothing on us. Like a giant blotting paper I was soaking up God’s Word and it was making sense, not just dispensationally but doctrinally as well. I would tell everyone at the Army what I was learning and was surprised and disappointed when they would look at me as if to say “so what.” That didn’t deter me; regretfully I was like a bull in a china shop. How many people I turned off I don’t know but some listened and found the same excitement as I did.
A fair few years have passed since and I am more convinced than ever of the fact that at Acts 28:28 Paul went to the Gentiles with a message that was new, not doctrinally but dispensationally. All of my questions have not been answered but many have and I am absolutely convinced of the faithfulness of God and dependability of His Book, because when I view it dispensationally it makes sense to me and I never have to make excuses for it.
John Hutton, 1993.